CLEMSON — The No. 2 Clemson Tigers (6-0, 4-0 ACC) travel north this week to take on the Syracuse Orange (3-3, 1-1 ACC) in a rare Friday night (7 p.m., ESPN) game.
Friday night will mark the sixth meeting of the two teams dating back to 1996, when the Orange defeated the Tigers in the Gator Bowl 41-0. But since the Orange joined the ACC in 2013, the Tigers are a perfect 4-0 against Syracuse — winning by at least double digits in all four games.
For Swinney, memories of the Tigers’ last trip to Syracuse — which saw the Tigers hang on to a 37-27 victory — are all too fresh.
"They embarrassed us a couple of years ago up there,” Swinney said. “We jumped on them pretty quickly and the next thing you knew we were in a dogfight. We couldn't score enough points. They went through us that night. We were fortunate to win the game."
The Tigers will face a different head coach from the last time they took on the Orange in New York.
Dino Babers, who took over the program last year from former coach Scott Schaefer, enters his second season and has brought with him a clear identity of what Syracuse football should be — a team that plays fast and competes.
"They have a clear identity. They had a big transition from a coaching standpoint,” Swinney said. “Dino has a plan, there is a clear identity there. He's an excellent leader there. He's going to do a great job there. He has given them an identity that they need.
“They went to LSU and they competed with everything that they've got. N.C. State was a tight game too. They competed their tails off. From my eyes, those are things I can tell. I'm looking at who they are as a team. I can tell if they believe in what they are doing and they do it well. It's obvious. I see how they respond.”
In addition to a clear identity, part of the challenge facing the Tigers this week will be the venue — the Carrier Dome.
Clemson boasts a 9-6 record in domed stadiums — including a 2-0 record in the Carrier Dome (2013, 2015). But the Carrier Dome is a different animal from many other domes — leading Swinney to change up his normal routine.
"It's unique. It's different. I've been everywhere from coast to coast. You name it. The Carrier Dome is unique. We went up there two years ago. It's different than the Georgia Dome,” Swinney said. “When we land, we go by there and let them walk around. It's a little different. It's a very different setting just like it is for basketball teams.
“We went up there two years ago and that night they were playing basketball. The next day it was a football field. Let me tell you, it gets loud in there. It'll get loud and intense. They have great history at Syracuse. I talk to our guys about that too. I'll let them know they've had a few dudes come out of Syracuse."
After a brutal first month of the season, which saw the Tigers face three top-15 teams in the first five games, the challenge has become more mental as they approach next week’s open date.
But for Swinney and the rest of the Tigers, it is all about embracing the challenge this week.
"You have to be able to handle it. You have to know what it takes every week,” Swinney said. “If you don't have that, you'll be distracted. Our guys understand that. I met with our guys Sunday. I told them this is where I needed them to help me in the training table, the locker room, on the bus. You need a certain mindset to be successful so that you're not overwhelmed. …
“This week is about emptying the tank. Whatever we’ve got in it, we need to empty it.”
Anniversary for Swinney
Friday’s game will be special for Swinney, regardless of the outcome. Nine years ago, Oct. 13, 2008, he was named interim head coach after then-head coach Tommy Bowden tendered his resignation.
It is a day that Swinney will always remember.
“That day will be in my mind forever,” Swinney said. “That's the first thing I saw when I looked at the schedule. I'll always remember that date. You always remember where you came from. Now we keep plowing ahead. It'll be a neat day regardless of what happens. But I hope it's a good Friday the 13th."
When asked Tuesday about the status of starting quarterback Kelly Bryant, Swinney said Bryant went through practice Monday evening — taking all of his normal reps — and would be evaluated as the week went on.
"He has been good. Practiced all day yesterday and moved around well. I was encouraged,” Swinney said. "Kelly is our starter. That doesn't change. We'll see him go practice today. He didn't miss a rep yesterday. Hopefully he'll be able to go again today."